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Political insiders say Sen. Bill Nelson likely to win third term

One reason Florida's U.S. Senate race has yet to capture much attention and excitement? Even in a political climate where the public is fed up with Washington politicians, politicos in Florida overwhelmingly expect Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson to win another term.

More than 100 of the most plugged in and experienced political observers in Florida responded to the latest St. Petersburg Times Florida Insider Poll, and seven in 10 said they expect the Orlando Democrat to win a third term.

Plenty of them expect a close race or qualify their predictions to say it assumes a relatively strong showing by President Barack Obama in Florida, but the poll clearly shows conventional political wisdom in this state favors Nelson. When Republican political donors and committees across the country weigh where to spend their money to try to capture the Senate, an expensive state like Florida could be a low priority, given the early expectations.

The entrance of U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, has upended expectations in the GOP primary, thanks mainly to Mack's name recognition inherited from his father, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III. Five months ago former state House Speaker Adam Hasner of Boca Raton was the heavy favorite of our insiders to win the nomination, though former Sen. George LeMieux was seen as the strongest general election candidate.

Now, however, three out of four insiders predict Mack will win the nomination, and six in 10 say he would be the strongest general election candidate. About one in five expects Hasner to win the nomination. Likewise, about one in five says Hasner would be the strongest candidate to take on Nelson, while about one in five says LeMieux would be (several of Hasner's campaign staffers participated in the survey).

Not a single person voted for retired Army Col. Mike McCalister of Plant City or Winter Park businessman Craig Miller as the likely nominee or strongest general election candidate.

Participating in the latest Florida Insider Poll were 41 Democrats, 55 Republicans, and seven independents. The full list of participants is on The Buzz blog at tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics.

Gingrich and Romney

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney last week announced the county campaign leaders for all 67 Florida counties. Here are the Tampa Bay teams:

Romney: Hernando — David Russell and Laurie Pizzo; Hills­borough — David Gee, William "Hoe" Brown, Clif Curry, Chris Hart, Rick Lott and Donna Turner; Pasco Jack Mariano, Ann Hildebrand, Mike Moore, Peter and Karen Hanzel, Steve and Sandy Graves, Connie Queller, Anna Corona and Kathryn Starkey; Pinellas — Bill Foster, Frank Hibbard, Jeff Antous, John Giotis, Alex and Ellie Kramer and Stephen Gately.

Gingrich: Hernando Mary Mazzuco and Kevin Hoh; Hills­borough Sam Rashid, Kelly Clem Rickon, Michael Goldrick, Rene Luaces and Robin Lankford; Pasco Roger Whidden and Chris Seeger; Pinellas Miguel Fana, Tony DiMatteo, Nancy Riley, Nina Pilon and Cody Fletcher.

Nice trip

We don't usually pay much attention to holiday emails sent by politicians, but the one from former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink stood out. When so many people are struggling financially, is it really wise to send a picture of you and your family vacationing in the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas? Just asking.

YouTube sensation

Congratulations to Blaise Ingoglia, the Hernando County GOP chairman and vice chairman of the state party. His video, "Brother can you spare a trillion" was one of YouTube's top 10 political videos of 2011, racking up 5 million hits. He is also today's guest on Political Connections, airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Bay News 9.

Follow Adam Smith on Twitter at @AdamSmithTimes.

Winner of the week

Keith Fitzgerald. The former Democratic state representative running against U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, received plenty of ammunition to question Buchanan's fitness for the job last week. While Buchanan declared himself "completely exonerated" by a Federal Election Commission report about alleged illegal campaign contributions, the report cast serious doubts on Buchanan's truthfulness and his compliance with federal law. What's more, the House Committee on Ethics announced it was extending an investigation into the fundraising activities of Buchanan, who already faced a separate inquiry by the U.S. Justice Department.

Loser of the week

No one. Come on, it's Christmas. No losers.

Political insiders say Sen. Bill Nelson likely to win third term 12/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 24, 2011 8:46pm]

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